Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Darwin whale's tooth in wardrobe

Scrimshaw from Darwin's era
The whale tooth was given as a present

A whale's tooth carved by a royal marine who sailed with Charles Darwin has been found buried in the bottom of a wardrobe in Cheshire.

Known as scrimshaw, the ornate gift is tells the story of the explorer's encounter with Indians in Tierra del Fuego in south Argentina in 1830.

An elderly lady in Macclesfield found the tooth, believed to belong to her husband's great great grandfather.

It could be sold for more than £40,000 when it goes to auction in November.

Intricately carved by Pte James Bute, a soldier who served on Darwin's HMS Beagle, he gave it to his friend and comrade Thomas Burgess as a present.

I can at times picture to myself very clear some of the sights we had in the Beagle
Thomas Burgess in his letters to Charles Darwin

This was passed down through the family, originating in Stockport, until it ended up in the wardrobe in Macclesfield.

Only five other examples of Bute's scrimshaw are known, one of which sold in September for £40,800, an auction record for such an item.

Auctioneer Adam Partridge said: "We believe the tooth was found on one of the Falkland islands. It was a well-known whaling station around that time.

"To have found such a historically important object like this in a box at the bottom of a wardrobe is astonishing.

Ethcings on the scrimshaw
One of those snatched from their homeland died soon after

"One of the people etched died soon after arriving in England after they were taken from the their homeland and the others were trained by those in Western civilisation."

The scrimshaw also comes with a number of letters, written by Burgess to Darwin. In one dated April 13 1875, Burgess, aged 65 and living in Stockport, thanks Darwin for the photograph and goes on to explain his career since he left the Beagle.

He writes: "I can at times picture to myself very clear some of the sights we had in the Beagle, for instance the coast of Pantagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Falkland Islands, Straits of Magallan with Port Jamine and Wignan Cove and Otcehite with Dolphin Bay, and Giant Oceans. I fancy at times I can see them."

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